By: NobleHour Special Contributor Latasha Doyle
Hurricane Harvey made landfall days ago, but it continues to soak Texas and the Gulf Coast. It's on its way to setting a new U.S. rainfall record for any tropical storm or hurricane. The images are unimaginable and the damage is catastrophic for hundreds of thousands of people. More than 30,000 people are expected to be placed in shelters. And, the rain continues to fall, relief far from sight. Many brave first responders are coming to their aid, not knowing the status of their own homes.
As those of us unaffected by this massive storm watch the recovery and aid efforts from our homes, many of us are moved to donate, to help the affected people in some way. If you’re feeling that same pull, there are a number of ways you can volunteer to help make a difference. Aside from the immediate physical devastation the people in these regions are facing, they must also deal with the widespread destruction once the storm waters recede. Here are six ways you can help now and in the future.
1. Donate your Money
You can donate your money to a variety of programs, the most prominent being the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the United Way. You can also look up programs local to the disaster-affected area by searching the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) state and territory members list.
NVOAD comes highly recommended by Jason Huffman, Vice President of Organizational and Impact Strategies of the United Way of Acadiana in Louisiana. The NVOAD helps to “coordinate efforts so that there is less duplication of effort and increased collaboration in the community’s response.” If you want to know more about how each charity uses their donations, visit Charity Navigator to see how their organization is rated.
You can visit each charity’s website, but the Red Cross and the Salvation Army makes it super easy. You just have to text HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation through the Red Cross, text “STORM” to 51555 to make a donation to the Salvation Army, and text UWFLOOD to 41444 for the United Way. In addition, Texas Monthly provided a list of local organizations addressing specific needs to help children, animals, and people with certain medical needs.
2. Volunteer to Raise Money
Whether you ask coworkers to pitch in, start a collection at church, or even ask your neighbors if they’d like to donate - just ask. You can also put a fundraiser collection jar or box at work, school, or church so people can donate when they can. Also keep in mind that people may try to donate supplies or goods in lieu of money, but most disaster relief agencies have to turn down these shipments because of the logistics of shipping, disbursement, and storage.
The list of things to avoid when gathering donations may shock you, but make sure you do not send these items to collection stations:
- *Bottled water (it’s too expensive to ship)
- *Canned food (shipping and climate control can compromise the food)
- Medical supplies (they can’t verify the quality of the products)
In reality, the money you send to relief efforts actually goes towards the purchase of these items in a way that is easier in terms of logistics, and can actually help stimulate the disaster-ridden area’s economy.
*If you live in an area close enough to directly transport food, goods, clothing, and hygiene products, search out your local food bank, homeless shelter, or faith-based organization. Odds are, they will be gathering food to donate to relief causes. Here's a list of food banks in Texas that may need help, especially in the coming weeks and months.
Other donation needs are based on the type of disaster, as Huffman points out. “...After the Louisiana floods, clean up items like mops, buckets, and bleach were in high demand… After a tornado or earthquake, some of those needs would be different. It’s always good to check with local active partners engaged in the work to see what is most needed.”
3. Give Blood
Health care and medical attention are one of the most immediate concerns in the path of a major storm or natural disaster. While medical corporations and government agencies often donate medical supplies and send in medical professionals, they can’t simulate life-giving blood. People all over the country can donate blood to help those affected in these areas.
4. Volunteer a Helping Hand
As Mr. Rogers would say, “Always look for the helpers.” If you watch the news during and after a natural disaster hits, you’ll see everyday citizens doing their part to physically be there for their neighbors. If you live in an area affected by a natural disaster and are safe, simply extending a helping hand to your neighbor can make a huge difference. Huffman says that organizations may also have a “need for volunteers to answer phones, sort through donated items, help remove debris from affected sites, talk to and answer questions with disaster survivors, enter disaster-related data, or deliver goods like food and water to homes, food pantries, or other distribution sites.”
Even if you’re not formally volunteering with an organization, this could mean loading and unloading supplies, cooking in a relief kitchen, sandbagging a neighborhood to prepare for floods, or sheltering families or animals that are homeless because of the storm. If you’re not sure where to help or who to help, Huffman also recommends using your local 2-1-1 line. Dial 2-1-1 to get “information about shelters, food pantries, disaster supplies, and even immediate health services” for yourself and for others. Volunteers don’t have to come in a special uniform or sign up for the program. You can be a volunteer by simply helping people going through a rough time.
Note: relief agencies ask that unsolicited volunteers avoid rushing into disaster zones to help, as this complicates efforts and distracts from the task at hand.
5. Volunteer your Time and Energy
Once the storms subside, a damaged region needs a lot of work - and a lot of help - to get things back up and running. The hardest hit areas will see an influx of volunteers, but many areas cannot even afford repairs (especially minority and low income areas). Government aid and fundraising can only do so much; sometimes, manpower is needed. Many Americans helped rebuild Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina through Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together New Orleans. Hurricane Sandy provided East Coasters a reason to volunteer to rebuild their iconic boardwalks and some private citizens even donated their resources to help families get back in their homes. Many churches, from Catholic to Latter Day Saints, fund trips to disaster-torn regions to help rebuild schools, houses of worship, and community programs that help residents affected by the storm. After Hurricane Matthew, programs like Volunteer Florida and Red Cross North Carolina had plenty of volunteers willing to help rebuild homes, clean up beaches, and more.
6. Volunteer in the Coming Weeks and Months - not just when the storm first hits
Rebuilding efforts aren’t just a month long project, and programs will continue to need funds and volunteers to help get life back to normal for those hit hardest by natural disasters. Look at Louisiana: Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and there are entire portions of the state still under repair or totally abandoned. Huffman is highly familiar with the ongoing support a disaster-riddled area needs. “...Recovery lasts for months or even years, [but] this won’t be true of the media coverage, or even the local FEMA presence.”
So if you’re unable to volunteer right when a disaster hits, don’t worry that you’re missing your one and only chance to help. Ongoing support for disaster recovery takes months, so look at your vacation calendar and plan around that! You can also volunteer for longer projects during school breaks and / or work vacations. Local programs will often have conservation efforts, inner city rehabilitation programs, or “Alternative Spring Breaks.” Habitat for Humanity even has an “RV Care-a-Vanners” program, which sends volunteers to different disaster relief rebuild sites around the U.S. Check with your local university’s community engagement or service program to see if they have anything planned. If you have a year of free time on your hands, you can even sign up for AmeriCorps.
The Disaster Isn’t Over
We can’t stop natural disasters, but we can help people recover from the losses they experience in the face of these catastrophic events. Government funding and relief efforts can only go so far without the help of the public. It’s also important to remember that relief efforts don’t stop the second the cameras stop rolling; natural disasters can create many years worth of damage. Programs and institutions that understand the need for ongoing disaster relief always need help, so keep volunteering. Whether you donate your time, physical presence, or money to a relief aid cause, know that you are making a difference.
Are you looking for meaningful service opportunities in your area? Sign up for your free NobleHour account today to find volunteer events near you.
photo credit: American Red Cross
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Latasha Doyle is a writer and long term care volunteer living outside of Denver, Colorado. When she's not writing or volunteering, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.